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To everything tere's a season
on 16 January 2009
What if you discovered that you had a superpower -- great strength, flight, teleportation, or amazing healing? And what if you could use it to save the world?
Superheroes are everywhere in entertainment, from comic books to movies. But they suddenly got new attention in "Heroes," which explores the repercussions of "ordinary" people who discover that they have strange -- and sometimes dangerous -- powers. The first season is a a solid comic-book style TV series, although the second season trips over itself.
It opens with Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) reflecting on the human quest for knowledge -- even knowledge that we shouldn't have -- right before learning that his father has been killed, possibly murdered. Suresh's dad believed that "special" people were cropping up, much like in X-Men.
And we are introduced to the "heroes": stripper Niki (Ali Larter) harbors a secret dark side, cheerleader Claire (Hayden Panettiere) heals from any injury, cubicle worker Hiro (Masi Oka) bends time and space, Senatorial candidate Nathan (Adrian Pasdar) is able to fly, his brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) can copy others' powers, cop Matt (Greg Grunberg) can read minds, and junkie artist Isaac (Santiago Cabrera) sees the future.
Their lives are dramatically changed by their powers -- some explore them, some are haunted by them, and a superpowered serial killer is hunting and murdering the others. Even worse, Hiro witnesses the explosive destruction of New York a mere five weeks into the future -- and a future version of himself says that saving the cheerleader will save the world.
The second season is a much shorter one (because of a writers' strike) and doesn't quite measure up to the epic heights of the first season. The Heroes are struggling to deal with the aftereffects of the past season, especially the now-alcoholic Nathan and amnesiac Peter. Meanwhile, Hiro uses his powers to travel to medieval Japan -- and finds out some shocking facts about his boyhood hero.
Unfortunately while the malevolent Sylar has lost his powers, he's still dangerous -- especially since he's teamed up with a woman who emits poison. The season revs up when a trip into the future reveals that the Shanti virus is going to kill over nine-tenths of the world. With no time to waste -- and a mysterious man who may or may not be an ally -- the Heroes must save humanity once again.
Unlike most shows about people with superpowers, "Heroes" isn't really about the action or flashy battles. It's half epic save-the-world-as-a-team story, and half exploration of how real, ordinary people would react if they suddenly found out that they had superpowers, and how this would change -- or NOT change -- their lives.
And the first season is a brilliant piece of work -- incredibly intricate and complex, since there are a dozen subplots and a lot of time travel, and a lot of exploration of the Heroes' previous lives. These complex storylines are enhanced by lots of suspense and tightly directed action, and the makers always know how to throw in a shocking twist (a sword-carrying future Hiro showing up) and some dark humour (Claire wakes up in mid-autopsy).
The second season is not quite as good -- the forcibly truncated length means that it's a bit oddly paced, and the vision-of-a-disaster-that-must-be-prevented is too similar to the first season. But it's still worth watching with all those creepy moments (such as the poison-woman with black eyeballs), and especially the malevolent Sylar.
The actors are pretty much all good -- Larter gives a great double performance, Zachary Quinto is a wonderfully twisted villain, and Panettiere gives a good performance as a teen whose adolescence has a lot more than hormones in store. Masi Oka is the standout, though -- his Hiro is sweet, endearing, geeky, heroic, sad, kindly, funny and thoroughly lovable, and grows in maturity as he works his way through the series.
The first two seasons of"Heroes" start off brilliantly and continue a bit less brilliantly, but overall it is a solid, unusual sci-fi-drama that's well worth watching.